I’m tempted to just write the word WOW and call this blog post done… but let’s just say that Sony Kando Trip 2.0, at Asilomar Conference Grounds, in Pacific Grove/Monterey, CA, was a genuinely exceptional experience that surpassed all my expectations. I'll admit to being somewhat jaded when it comes to events that surround photography which purport to bring together big names and photographers with corporate sponsors. I assumed when we had to write a short essay and submit our portfolios in order to be accepted on the trip that this was being done to create a faux aura of VIP-ness since seemingly everything is "VIP" these days. So much so that the whole idea has really just become cliché.

I was wrong. And I couldn't be happier about it.

From around 600 hundred applicants they selected 150 attendees. Class sizes were intimate (usually 10-15 people), and access to gear, knowledge, and experiences was easy and plentiful. The Sony team put on a thoughtfully planned event and really treated us like valued partners in a creative endeavor, rather than just attendees who were to be herded around from conference room to conference room. I'm still getting some strong emotions about this while typing these words. Sony folks, if you're reading this: thank you; a giant, huge, sincere thank you for making Kando 2.0 an event that I won't ever forget.


\\ Sony Kando Trip 2.0

So what's "kando" mean, anyway? The Alpha Universe website explains it as:

Kando is Sony’s core philosophy, which roughly translates into the power of emotional connection and serves as the foundation for Kando Trip, our unique experience for content creators. Set at Asilomar in Monterey, California, the Kando Trip experience will stretch your creative boundaries. Under the guidance of leading photographers, filmmakers, educators, and social experts, you’ll explore new ways to create, share, and build your brand.

And in this 5-minute podcast, Sony's Senior Marketing Communications Manager, Matt Parnell, does a great job explaining kando in both abstract terms, and what the idea of kando means for the trip, specifically.  

\\ Asilomar Conference Grounds

Asilomar is 107 acres of Central Coast paradise. Originally designed as a YWCA Leadership Camp by renowned architect Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928, Asilomar is celebrated for its restored dune ecosystem and architectural significance, with thirteen of Morgan's cozy, historic structures remaining on-site, making this the largest collection of Morgan's Arts & Crafts style architecture in one location. Updates have been made over the years, but the tranquility and harmony found at Asilomar have been preserved. The California dunes ecosystem that buffers the built environment from the beach looked totally otherworldly to me. Florida dunes, which are what I'm most familiar with, don't look anything like this. At times I really felt like I'd somehow stepped through a portal into another dimension.

You can read more about Asilomar's history here.

\\ day one

DCA to SFO to MRY was a long, but uneventful day. I left the DC at 7am and checked in at Asilomar around 2pm, picked up my swag bag, then headed to my room. Shortly afterward I met my roommate, Rick, and then set out to explore the area before dinner. I met tons of people along the way including my friend Dan, for the first time in person.

(Sidenote: the English language really needs a new noun that concisely explains the concept "I know you digitally but have never met you in physical space." Someone please help with this.)

LPX (above) gave us a big energy set as the sun was going down. Then the wind. So much wind. I'd almost packed my gloves but decided against it. The wind on Wednesday night made me regret my decision. I finally gave up on holding my camera since my hands were so cold they were stinging. Shortly after that jet lag and the long day took their toll, so I surrendered and hit the hay.

\\ day two

The long exposure photography class I took with Thibault Roland gave me practical knowledge that I'll use for urban photography here around the District. The class also really shone a light on the Sony staff. The class utilized ND filters, which were to be provided to class participants courtesy of Sony and PolarPro. The only problem is that I mainly use vintage lenses and the Sony team had only brought along standard sized ND Filters to fit Sony lenses. I can't tell you the sincere apologies I got from folks. They were legitimately concerned that I might not be able to participate in the class. Like, you could see it in their eyes.

With a few trips back-and-forth from my room, to the main hall, and back to the beach, we finally got things worked out using my Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 and a 67-77 step-up ring from PolarPro. Below is the result. That's a two and a half minute exposure at f/5.6 and ISO 50. There are definitely things I'd change about this photograph if I could reshoot it, but I'm really proud of it, especially for my first time ever trying something like this.

sony kando trip 2.0-303.jpg

Next up was "Translating Editorial Work to Advertising Gigs" with Ben Lowy and Marvi Lacar. This class was honestly the main reason I applied for Kando Trip and they gave me a good reality check. I don't remember if it was Marvi or Ben who said it (I'm paraphrasing): "The sooner you start doing the work you want to do, the sooner clients who want to pay you for that work will show up." It seems so obvious, right? But this was exactly what I needed to hear. I'm still kicking myself for not asking to photograph the two of them but I was a little bit beside myself trying not to fanboy all over them because I really admire their work. 😅

Later that afternoon I took a food photography class with Jessica Hirsch whom, I have to say, is a total delight.

While I'm fairly extroverted, I'm also an only child and need some alone time to regroup and process things. After dinner was finished I took some time to just let my camera lead me on a walk around the area. While crossing Sunset Drive on my way down to the beach I spotted a pale blue Karmann Ghia and ended up striking up a conversation with Midge, the owner. I found a home adjacent to Asilomar that looks like a Chinese temple. And I realized that basically, every tree along this part of the California coast looks like a giant bonsai.

\\ day three

I started the morning off at a cinematic lighting and portraiture class with Jason Lanier. I got gear recommendations that will directly improve my photography and not break my wallet into teeny tiny pieces, and a couple of lighting techniques that also should improve my portraits.

These two behind the scenes photos feature models Sierra Lippert and Eirinee.

And these are the final portraits from Jason's class, featuring models Christina Zapolski, Nick Buchanan, and Eirinee.

After lunch, it was time for an on-location lighting class from Brian Smith. Working with the sun and some H U G E high-powered lights we made portraits by the pool with a retro vibe. I learned how to work with the sun rather than fight it, which is opposite the way I've always thought about lighting outdoor, midday scenes. 

A few behind the scenes photos are below featuring Brian Smith and Alexzandria Compton.

And the final portraits featuring Alexzandria Compton and Amani Hope.

I was supposed to go on a street photography walk that evening but my feet and ankles were killing me after climbing all over beach rocks and uneven ground for a few days so I opted to book one of the models, Jakob Alesandro, for a one-on-one photoshoot. Amani (above) and Jakob (below) are the two models I felt like I best connected with, creatively-speaking, on the trip. I'm really pleased with the portraits we made together.

And the only way to wrap up a trip like this is photographing surfers at sunset, right? 

\\ day four

Travel home was shared with these two goofballs. The universe obviously wanted us to get to know each other a little bit because we shared two flights and an Uber, and were neighbors during our stay at Asilomar, too. That's Alex Karpenko on the left and Calvin Chiu on the right during our layover at LAX.

\\ Sony's highlight reels

I pop up on the day five highlights at the 37 seconds mark. 😊 And you can see the highlights from all five days of Sony Kando Trip 2.0 right here.

I'm really looking forward to Kando 3.0 and the hopes I'll get accepted for another round of opportunities like this. I can't say enough good things about the experience. I've got a couple of rolls of film to have developed so there'll (hopefully) be more photos to share in a couple of weeks.